Photosport/Brett Phibbs/INPHO Joe Schmidt during a New Zealand training session today.
familiar face

O'Gara: Schmidt impact can be 'overestimated' ahead of first Test

The former Ireland boss has stepped in to help coach the All Blacks this week.

SOMETIMES IT CAN be strange to see a face we know so well wearing a different crest or different colours, but that wasn’t the case when the first snaps of Joe Schmidt out on the training pitch in his crisp new All Blacks gear started filtering through earlier this week.

Ever since Schmidt walked away from the Ireland job in late 2019, we knew this day was coming, but his earlier-than-expected presence among the All Blacks coaching ticket this week has added a blockbuster twist to an already intriguing opening Test match on Saturday.

It’s set to be a fascinating reunion as Andy Farrell’s squad come up against a coach who knows so many of the travelling party so well; steering Ireland to two Six Nations titles, a Grand Slam and a slew of historic Test match wins during his time on these shores.

Now Ireland’s greatest-ever head coach will be in the other coaching box, his presence looming large over a fixture Irish supporters have been counting down the days to ever since that memorable win in Dublin the last time these two heavyweights met.

The opening game of Ireland’s five-game tour didn’t go to plan, an experimental side falling to a 32-17 defeat to the Maori All Blacks on Wednesday, but Saturday represents a totally new challenge as the big guns come back in, the tourists searching for a first-ever win against the All Blacks in New Zealand.

“I wouldn’t make any correlation between Wednesday’s game and Saturday,” says former Ireland out-half and current La Rochelle head coach, Ronan O’Gara.

joe-schmidt Photosport / Brett Phibbs/INPHO Schmidt has stepped in as a number of All Blacks coaches isolate with Covid. Photosport / Brett Phibbs/INPHO / Brett Phibbs/INPHO

“Test games are very different and I suppose there were some good warnings for Ireland in the fact that you can’t give New Zealanders times and space on the ball.

“That was one key learning and the second was just how dangerous they are in transition. Thirdly, their skill levels, even in wet conditions, June, it was slippy ball, their front five are very comfortable handling. So we got an early snapshot into what you’ll see on Saturday from the boys in black.

“From an Ireland point of view, it’s something that can be addressed quickly but stopping it in real life can be difficult, especially in Eden Park if they get their tails up.

“You have to start fast against New Zealand and when they become unplayable is when they get confident. The flip side of that is when you take away their time and space and put them under pressure and they have new combinations, then there’s a big opportunity for Ireland.”

It will be interesting to see what impact Schmidt has made since joining the All Blacks set-up. He was set to join Ian Foster’s staff as an ‘independent selector’ following Ireland’s tour of New Zealand, but is believed to have been involved with the All Blacks in the lead-up to the series.

rog-x-benetti-menswear Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE Benetti Menswear has launched their new seasonal collections for Spring Summer '22 with Ronan O’Gara. Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

O’Gara has first-hand experience of watching Schmidt operate, having worked with him for the first leg of Ireland’s summer tour of the USA and Japan in 2017, joining the national set-up for a two-week period.

“It was a brilliant week,” O’Gara remembers.

I suppose his organisation and his command of a staff and command of a group was really impressive. He ran very interesting training sessions. Really organised, really detailed, and it was very impressive. Very, very impressive. That week just whizzed by. I was probably tired going to bed because I was in soak mode, trying to soak up as much as I could from a brilliant coach.

“It was fascinating, but I think what was also evident was the fact that he let the players own a lot of it.

“There might be a misperception out there that he likes to control everything but I didn’t see that. I saw the leaders on the team taking control and driving different walk-throughs at different periods throughout the week, and then training was intense, but it was enjoyable. His meetings were short and sharp and interesting.”

ronan-ogara-with-joe-schmidt Tommy Dickson / INPHO O'Gara with Schmidt in 2017. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Much has been made of Schmidt’s inside knowledge of the Ireland camp, but O’Gara feels his influence could be overstated as he prepares to come against a group who also have a decent amount of notes on how he likes to operate. 

“It’s such a short space of time,” adds O’Gara – who also described reports he is set to work with Crusaders coach Scott Robertson with the Barbarians later this year as “news to me.”

“Joe is probably in as a consultant this week, you know, so the reality is that the gameplan is embedded in for a number of weeks before that, so there’ll be very little that will be changed. He’ll just have a presence on the training ground and he’ll be a good sounding board for players if they want to get his opinion on something. I think you see his imprint over a sustained period of time. So, he’s had a big impact on the Blues this year, a very positive impact with then obviously the disappointment of the final.

“I think sometimes it’s overestimated, the impact. The players will be trying to have an individual performance that will benefit their team. The Irish players, yeah, they’ll have huge respect for Joe and they’d have an understanding of what his mindset is and what he’s trying to create. But I think once the ball is kicked off, your go into your natural game anyway.”

So, can this Test series be the one where Ireland finally land that elusive win on New Zealand soil?

“I think it’s very, very doable,” O’Gara says.

“For the first time in a long time the New Zealand team is very difficult to pick. For me there’s debate on probably 10 positions in that team. 

“You look at the backline: Is it [Beauden] Barrett or [Richie] Mo’unga, who plays 12? Is Ioane a winger or 13, Sevu Reece is playing on the right wing, there’s a debutant on the left wing [Leicester Fainga’anuku]. Jordie Barrett playing 15, there’s no Will Jordan, David Havili, Jack Goodhue, George Bridge.

“There are so many really good players but when you have such depth it’s very hard for people to claim that jersey. That seems to be happening with this New Zealand team, some guys are playing and they are in and out. 

“From Ireland’s point of view and they have a look at them, they strip back the non-important information they’ll view opportunity in this game.”

Award winning Irish designer, Benetti Menswear, has launched their new seasonal collections for Spring Summer ’22 with La Rochelle Head Coach and former Munster, Ireland and British & Irish Lions player Ronan O’Gara. The new Spring Summer collections are available at featured retailers nationwide and exclusively online at 

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